A wolf in sheep’s clothing…

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…looks a lot like a sheep.

It seems like there is a trend going around in churches today. You can see it advertised on billboards and television, or printed on the card you found on your doorstep or car windshield in the Walmart parking lot:

“A church for those who hate church”
or
“A church for those who need a second chance”
or
“A place where you can heal”

And they all sound really good. As a matter of fact, I think I wanted to adopt one of those slogans for my church at some point in my ministry. Why?
Because there is truth behind them. And, quite honestly, if your church isn’t about healing and second chances, then you don’t understand or walk in the grace and love of Christ.

And, every ‘up and coming’ church, planted or born into this society has taken on this war cry in some form or fashion – because they know that there are hurting people out there. They know that there are people walking through some nasty stuff: sin, pain, heartache…
And those people need to feel accepted and loved.

But by there own church

Today’s trend does not end with a cool slogan, but with a pursuit of sheep. From other pastures. The big, cool thing to do as a church in today’s society is to be so relevant…so cool…so forgiving…that they will naturally (and forcefully) absorb Believers from other churches around them.

I cringe when I speak to pastors I know who excitedly tell me they are “really growing” and “God is really blessing them” and it’s with the sheep of other flocks in the area.

It’s an easy thing to do. Excitement about your church should pour out onto everyone you encounter. And it is an easy thing to excuse and justify. When you see someone hurting or unhappy, you want to help them and offer them a solution.

A few months ago, I had a pastor in our county approach me in a public setting and invite me to his church. I knew who he was, but he obviously didn’t know me. He said that his church was ‘a place for second chances’ and told me I should check it out. I did not mention that I was a pastor, but did tell him that I was a part of our church, and mentioned it by name. He proceeded to tell me what was wrong with our church and how my family and I should leave it and come hear him preach, because ‘God is really showing up there’.

I politely declined and allowed him to go on his merry way, and allowed the wolf to move along to devour other sheep. See, the amazing thing about a wolf in sheep’s clothing is that it looks a lot like a sheep. Which, by all accounts, can be tricky and deceptive. Someone should tell those wolves to stop.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” Matthew 7: 15-20

I know that at first glance, it may seem that I am bitter and jealous, and a little hurt.

Well, I am a little hurt. Hurt that the lost are being ignored for quick growth. Hurt that ‘men of God’ pursue other believers with a vengeance and unbelievers with no zeal at all. And hurt that I have to protect my flock from other shepherds. And I weep for those churches who have ‘divided up’ over this issue because pastor’s were preyed upon by their comrades in arms.

But do not mistake for bitterness and jealousy what is actually zeal for the truth of Scripture and protection of my flock.

This may seem like an inconsequential matter. As long as people are in church, then we are doing our job, right?

Wrong. Pastors that sit waiting outside the doors of other churches, salivating, sounds an awful lot like a wolf and not like a sheep. I don’t usually imagine sheep salivating. And churches led by men like this can never be a good ‘win’ for the gospel of Christ. And a church led by wolves will never seek to save the lost.

As pastors, we have the chance to walk through some hard times with people. We have the amazing chance to speak into people’s lives and to point them to Christ in the midst of their hard times. We also have to confront sin and seek to walk members…church family…through repentance and restoration. It can be some of the most humbling and spiritually meaningful times of a pastor’s life. We pour our lives into others, and invest time into relationships. Like our actual families, we develop ‘family’ with those in our church.

And when a family member goes through a hard time, the last thing you want to discover is that they are being ‘courted’ and pursued by pastors from other churches the moment you walk out of their home.

“It’s hard there, isn’t it? No one understands you or accepts you. Everyone is judging you there. You don’t have to put up with this. You need to do what’s best for you…so, why don’t you leave there and come to our church? It’s a great place for second chances and healing.”

I don’t believe that this was the example Jesus was pointing to when he told us to “Go into all the world and make disciples…”

…{sigh}…

I tend to ramble…

Have you ever thought about the wording of the slogan, “A church for those who hate church”?
– It’s like Justin Bieber’s song “Never Say Never” which contradicts itself in it’s own title. He said never twice!
– And more importantly, it implies that those who will attend are those with church background, who left their church for whatever reason (usually: anger, bitterness, broken relationships and unrepentant SIN) in order to go there.
– And these second chance churches offer a place to come and mend your wounds to those who are running from some serious stuff that needs to be addressed, walked through and repented of. They aren’t willing to stick around and deal with it, so it goes undiscussed and unresolved into this next church, and everyone licks the bloody gunshot wound…but refuse to do the hard, painful job of surgically removing the bullet. So the bullet stays in there. Until they get upset about something else and move on to the next ‘second chance’ church that pursued them.

And, yes, I am against second chances. Because I am for the never-ending, all-forgiving grace of God. Ephesians says that by GRACE you are saved…not through your works so that none of us could boast. Second chances point to our works. God’s grace is forever. We must only accept it.

I guess after the last few months, I have come to the very harsh conclusion that I don’t have time for foolishness on this level. I am done playing the game. Because that’s what it is…a game. And in the words of Mr. Wilder from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic series “Little House on the Prairie” (which I am currently reading my daughter for bedtime), “Never bet money on another man’s game.”

There are more important things than competing for the attention of sheep. There are lost to be found. If your concern is growing your church by pursuing those in another, then so be it. The Good Shepherd doesn’t play…he shoots wolves.

I think I’ll just keep pursuing the lost.

Some questions to consider whether or not this is you (if you had some doubts):

1. What percentage of your church has come from other churches?
2. What percentage of your time is spent pursuing the lost vs. ‘counseling’ those from other churches?
3. What does your fruit testify about you?

Check your church. Check your pastor.

Pastor, do not be so quick to ‘rescue’ and pursue sheep from other flocks. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you to encourage them to reconciliation with their church. Do not let them run from sin accountability by running to your church.

Pastors, man up and lead your flocks well.

My First Allegiance…

The other night my wife and I watched the first 2012 Presidential debate.

Apart from trying to predict which parts of the debate Saturday Night Live would be spoofing this coming Saturday, I listened to the words of two very eloquent men.

 Two very eloquent, powerful men…who had great and amazing dreams for our country.

 These two very different men stood on polar opposite sides of every issue presented:

            Healthcare, taxes, education, social security, tie color…

 But one thing they agreed on… they wanted to improve our country and the lives of those living in it. Of course, they disagreed on how best to do it…but the heart behind it was still one who was willing to do whatever it takes to make this country greater.

 

At that point I became emotional. Not outwardly…because I don’t do that. But I felt very ashamed.

 

See, for the last 6 years I have held the firm belief that President Obama was purposefully out to destroy our country and turn it over to China on a silver platter… and that Mitt Romney was a robot. I would roll my eyes when Obama would speak or pass legislature – especially the stuff I didn’t agree with. I would joke that I would rather write in Ron Swanson’s name than vote for Mitt Romney. (Ron Swanson is a fictional character from the NBC sitcom, Parks and Rec)

I’ve been a part of conversations where the final decision was to build a bunker in the backyard and stock up on guns, food and Bibles. And I’ve never felt good about the idea.

I’ve watched the television ads and wondered which one was lying the least.

I’ve watched as my friends, Christians and Non-Christians alike, bash the candidate they don’t support.

And I’ve continually called two men that I’ve never met, and know relatively nothing about, crooks.

            “You can’t get to where they are without lying, cheating and stealing.”

 

So, I felt shame as I watched these two men, whom I do not know personally yet have badmouthed for years, explain why they want to help this country.

I’m not a very patriotic person. So, I have found it hard to choose a side: Democrat or Republican. And I don’t really want to. I don’t really want to hang my hat on an elephant or donkey.

I’ve heard that if you are a Christian that you vote Republican – because Republicans believe in the Bible…but that can’t be true because the Republican presidential candidate is a Mormon – who believes in the book of Mormon and only certain parts of the Bible. President Obama, by default, believes in more of the Bible than Romney and he’s a Democrat.

It’s easy to get lost in the political circus, especially on election year. And it’s hard to not feel a bit of despair and anxiety in days filled with polls, debates and signs in the yard.

So, what does the Bible say about all of this mess? If I want to be Christ-like in my politics, then I need to know what Christ says about it.

 

Let’s go straight to Luke 20:22-26.

            “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?’ But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

 

then Romans 13.

            “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

 

And Titus 3.

            “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

 

It is important to have an opinion – A point that I have been convicted of lately because I’ve tried so hard to remove myself from all talk of politics, parties and elections in order to ‘be a better Christian’. It is important to seek the welfare of people – to seek to better the lives of communities and nations…

But I believe that the scripture is telling us that as Christ-followers it is MORE important for us to gently and lovingly submit to our government – no matter what our opinion is. I am not talking about participating or adopting any sinful beliefs or practices that might be passed under certain legislature…but without quarreling, and speaking evil of no one, we are to make this country better because we love – because of Christ. Not because we fight for our rights – because as Christians we no longer have rights…we died to those along with our sin. We are now slaves to Christ. (notice how it is all pointing back to Jesus? That’s because a servant is not greater than his master.)

So, please, Christian, do not forget who you are…and what you are called to be. It breaks my heart to see Christians get lost and forget their identity. You are Jesus to a lost and dying world. You are called to speak the truth in love in hopes that the TRUTH will turn hearts to the Lord. Here is what love is…

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-8

 

Love doesn’t end or become selective during election year. Love doesn’t become rude or arrogant during election year.

Love bears all things…with one another, regardless of political affiliation.

Love believes all things…believing the best in and for people, regardless of political affiliation.

Love hopes all things…hoping and desiring great things, even for the other candidate.

Love endures all things…we don’t lash out. We don’t fight back. We don’t demand our own way…we endure, as Christ endured the cross for us.

 

So, what are some practical things you can do?

 1. Love.

Love your neighbor.

Love your government leaders (the one you will vote for and the ones you won’t).

  1. Pray

Pray for those who hold different political opinions than you.

Pray for your leaders.

Pray for your President…because regardless of if you voted for him last time or if you’ll vote for him this time…he is still a man who works hard at his job.

              A man with the pressures of the entire country on his shoulders.

              A man who struggles with his convictions and the pull of both parties.

              A man who is hated by a vast majority of the country because he is black, democrat, etc…

              A man who’s life is always at risk of danger.

              A man who takes all of this and tries to be a good husband and father.

              A man who struggles to balance the weight of the world with family time.   

I’ll be honest, with the exception of the black democrat part, a lot of that sounds like the life of a pastor. It seems like God has put me in a great place to know how to pray for him.

 

This election year, let us love as Christ loves and commands us to love.

I will end with a portion of the lyrics to a song by Derek Webb and the inspiration for the blog title.

I hope that after reading the scriptures above that there will not be anything that swells up inside of you as you read the lyrics to this song. And I hope that your faith is strengthened and encouraged to be salt and light in America’s 2012 Election season.

 

A King and a Kingdom

“Who’s your brother, who’s your sister
You just walked passed him, I think you missed her
As we’re all migrating to the place where our father lives
‘Cause we married in to a family of immigrants

There are two great lies that I’ve heard:
“the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die”
And that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
And if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him

My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
It’s to a king & a kingdom”

I don’t care about the Panthers

Well, I admit it. I confess: I don’t care about the Carolina Panthers. I found out this astonishing truth as I checked my Facebook and saw most of my friends’ statuses were Panthers related, and all I could think about was finishing Lady and the Tramp with my kids.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that Panthers fans don’t love their kids, or the classic Disney Films…because who doesn’t enjoy such great films like Lady and the Tramp, Fox and Hound, Lion King…

All I’m saying is that true fans make time for both Cam Newton AND their kids.

I, however, have no time in my life for Mr. Newton, though he seems like a decent fellow. I would rather spend my time doing other things, like make silly videos…like Be-Ard The Warrior

If you are done watching football for the night, or have a chance during commercials OR you are like me and decided not to watch altogether, then check out my YouTube site. Season 3 will be coming sometime near Thanksgiving.

A One-Eyed, One-Legged, Pirate Disciple with a Hook Hand

7 “What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. 8 So if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”   Matthew 18:7-9

Growing up I heard this scripture a ton of times, and it was always accompanied by the teaching, “Now, is Jesus telling us to cut off our hands? No!”

 Regardless of what any pastor has said I have always imagined in my mind a one-eyed, one-legged pirate disciple with a hook for a hand. And it makes me laugh, because I also imagine that guy wearing a t-shirt that says, ARGH, JESUS IS MY MATEY.  And since I’ve always wanted to be a pirate, this scripture has had a certain appeal to me…

So, what is Jesus talking about? I think that Jesus had two ‘eyes, hands and feet’ that he was referring to (not his actual eyes, hands and feet). I believe he spoke of two sources of sin.

The first source: the situation.

How often have you found yourself in a situation that was intense with temptation to sin? I usually find myself in about a dozen a day. Sometimes you are just going along, living out the day when you turn around and BAM: temptation to sin. And you wonder, “How in Davy Jones’ Locker did I get here?”  You then have a choice – to give in to the sin or to walk away. And it’s tough.

Those are the times we seem to face the temptation to cheat on a test, tear down another person verbally, lie to a loved one, or have lustful thoughts about another person. Those ‘surprise’ temptations that catch us off guard – they will always plague us, yet we should flee from them when they arise.

Often times you end up in a situation that is full of temptation to sin, and it is because you put yourself in it. You chose to jump in head first: like running a red light, or looking at porn, or cutting, or being in a place alone with someone you should not be…

…and those situations, the ones that you looked for or created – those are usually the ones you don’t walk away from.

No, you usually crawl away in shame afterwards…

 Those places and circumstances that you collect and wrap around you like a blanket – a stagnant pool of temptation breeding the desire to sin…Jesus says to cut them off. If it causes offense, sever it from your life.

My youth pastor growing up used to say to me, “If you are always finding yourself in situations where you are tempted to go too far with your girlfriend, then don’t be alone with your girlfriend. You won’t be tempted to go too far if her parents are sitting in the room with you.” It seems so basic and simple, right? If you are tempted to have sex with your girlfriend when you are alone together, then DON’T BE ALONE TOGETHER. And he was right, you know. Maybe it’s because he was just putting Jesus’ words in context for my situation. And it doesn’t just apply to that circumstance, but to any –

If you are tempted to look at pornography on your computer, then DON’T GET ON THE COMPUTER while you’re alone! I promise you that you won’t be tempted to look at porn if someone is watching TV next to you…

Insert your own personal temptation into the equation.

We use this concept with lesser things:

If you are allergic to dairy, then DON’T DRINK MILK!

If you can’t swim, DON’T JUMP IN THE WATER!

If the bear licks his lips when he sees you, DON’T JUMP IN THE BEAR CAGE!

We need to apply this logic to the places where we are tempted to sin. If it causes you to sin, cut it off – remove it.

One last story on this before we move to the second source. When I was in high school, I had a friend whose parents were never home. I mean NEVER. And we would go over there all of the time to hang out. I went because of my friends, but they went there because the parents were not home AND they always had alcohol. It was like an ABC store in their kitchen. The temptation to drink was quite high there, and I knew it. I knew it so well that in my mind I imagined a neon sign over their house that said “Free Drinks Here!” There were many times I was tempted…but I never gave in. But I knew that if I was going over to their house, I would face it.

Eventually, I cut that temptation out of my life and never went to that house again.

And sometimes the hand that offends is more than a situation…

The Second Source: People

Sometimes the source of our temptation is a relationship. Jesus acknowledges this in the scripture above. Go back up and read verse 7.

Jesus knew that we would have some unhealthy relationships in our life. It’s inevitable, because we live in a lost world and we have relationships with sinful people.

And sometimes, when those relationships cause us to sin, we have to cut them off – and cut them out of our lives.

Jesus is not saying that we need to be hermits and guard ourselves against any kind of relationship. But he is saying what parents have said for centuries: I don’t like you hanging out with (insert person’s name) because they are a bad influence on you.

The root of it is this. Some relationships are just not healthy (spiritually, emotionally, and physically) for you. There are people that you have in your life that do not truly love you or care about your holiness.

That’s right, I said HOLINESS…not well-being. Those people might really think they care about your well-being…but it’s not your well-being we need to be concerned about.

It’s your holiness. Your Christ-likeness. And this isn’t always about sexual purity. Holiness has many applications.

For instance, I have a friend. We used to hang out a lot and would talk often. It started off as a healthy friendship – but I gradually started to come away from hanging out with him feeling bitterness. Bitterness about what was happening in his life, and reflecting the bitterness inward towards what was going on in my life. I mean, it would make me physically sick. Then God showed me that it had to do with the way my friend was ‘interacting’ with me. When we would talk, he would turn everything I said around and twist it to show how awesome stuff was in his life. He would boast about how God was doing amazing things in his life and ministry…and how if my life wasn’t looking like his, then obviously God wasn’t present in my life.

And  that lie permeated and stewed in my heart, causing all sorts of pain and sin. It tainted my holiness with the sin of bitterness and envy.

I repented of my sins, and forgave my friend – and began praying for him. But even with this, the relationship remained spiritually unhealthy on his part…and so I eventually had to cut the relationship out of my life. I am now able to truly love him and forgive him and I continually seek to restore that relationship, but I must do it from a distance because I cannot interact with him on a regular basis until he repents of his sin.

Holiness is important. To God, and for us.

 So, for you to consider today:

Are there relationships in your life that need to be removed?  Relationships that cause you to stumble and sin? Are there people in your life that do NOT seek your holiness?

Odds are, as soon as you read this, a few people popped into your mind. And yes, they are probably the ones that need cutting. Don’t be offended, because YOU are the one that equated them to the cutting block. The Holy Spirit who lives inside of all believers convicts of sin and shines his light on places in our lives that need more of Him…He brought that person to your mind.

And don’t rationalize that relationship. If it needs cutting, then do it.

Keep in mind that cutting a relationship must only come after you have done your part to redeem it. God desires us to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength…and then love others in the same way. We must love others – even those people who lead us into temptation – but that doesn’t mean we must follow them into temptation.

This scripture seems much more difficult than becoming a pirate with a hook hand…because making the hard decisions about unhealthy relationship is no easy matter…and it sometimes feels like it would be tremendously less painful to physically gauge out an eye.

But following Christ – being a true disciple – is not easy. It is full of tough choices. But the end goal is to be like Christ…

Think about it as you go about your day…

Narnia, Carolina Beach, and Heaven

 

This summer, my family took a vacation – which we haven’t really done in years. We spent a week at CarolinaBeach which is just south of Wilmington. The weeks that led up to our vacation seemed like years, and we found ourselves saying once a day “I just can’t wait for the beach.” Any time we had an argument, the response was, “I’m just anxious for our vacation. We really need some time away.” Any time there was work frustrations, the cure was, “In a few weeks we’re unplugging and sitting on the sand.”

 Finally, the time for our deliverance and respite had come and away we went. We loaded the family into the car, purchased some driving music from iTunes, grabbed some car snacks and drove the 3 ½ hours to our destination. Along the way we tweeted pictures, taking deep sighs of relief the closer we got. The windows rolled down to smell the sea air and our hearts ready for that object of our anticipation. That day, there was no other place we wanted to be – only Carolina Beach could heal us…not Myrtle Beach, not the Mountains…just Carolina Beach.

 And when we got there, we had a great time. Shirt and shoes optional, computer and cell phone forbidden.

 And we still had a stressful week. Our kids were unhappy, many in the family were sick, we had sand everywhere…it was not the utopia refuge we anticipated. We had fun. We spent time with family, got away from everyday life for a week, ate some good food…but we came back a little more tired than when we went. There were moments as I stood on the beach, staring out across the water that I had an immense desire – a longing – to go there. Straight across the water…wherever it led me (which, thanks to google.earth, I found out would have been Bermuda, and then Morocco). After all of that longing for the beach, once I got there, I longed to go farther.

 How silly. How odd that I had this one place that I desired to go to because it was going to be the end of my troubles and stress… 

On the drive back, I was thinking it through and considering my friends and family – and how it seems like every year they have their one place – whether it’s the beach or the mountains, or a cruise or New   York City or whatever. That one place where they need to go – their hearts yearn for it. That place will make it all better. 

I realized that this feeling that I had – standing on the beach, staring at Bermuda – is the same feeling I had when I finished reading the Chronicles of Narnia books – as the characters step through the door and find themselves standing in the restored Narnia. The Lion tells them that the earth before had been but a shadow of what was to come, that it was now the time for the true Narnia to come. It looks a lot like the old, but now perfected. I desired to be there, to be standing there with the Lion and experiencing the new world.

 We have this longing…and I think scripture clarifies our feelings.

“13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Hebrew 11:13-16

 “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. 4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5 God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 5:1-5

 We yearn for more – and the beach (or mountains or Las Vegas) are our temporary rest and relief. And I believe God placed these places and the feelings we have for them in our lives to draw us closer to Him and point us to that eternal hope. Perhaps even to shine like beacons upon our temporal citizenship on this earth.

 For those who reject Christ, who look to sandy beaches as their ultimate hope of escape, they will only know the groans and sighs…

 But for those in Christ, we can go to these places and experience the hope and joy and brief rest and know that there IS an eternal home. We can look ahead, like our fathers before us, to a better country and praise our LORD that He has made us a place there.

 

Praise the LORD, Creator of Heaven and Earth…and the ones to come!

May the God of hope and life give you rest in Him as you traverse this land as a stranger. May He satisfy your longings and fill you with his peace and joy in the knowledge of His love.

More Than Merely Surviving, part three

My family moved around a lot while I was growing up. My dad was in the Army and so every few years it was time to move to another post. In a way it was exciting because it allowed for us to go places most Americans don’t get to – like touringEurope. I experienced many different cultures and languages, and was able to see real-life castles, theEiffelTower, theLondonBridge, windmills inHolland, and what was left of theBerlinwall. I saw first hand countries still under communist rule, was able to walk along the old worn paths of kings, held my breath while standing in the gas chambers of old concentration camps, and climb the extremely narrow wooden steps leading to the place where Anne Frank’s family hid in fear. I took in, as a boy, amazing wonders (both inspiring and distressing) like standing at the top of a mountain and seeing four different countries, and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, and driving through the red-light district of Amsterdam (so my brother could get a picture of a bar The Beatles played in).

My family had many great adventures – but woven into everything was the love of the Lord. I never doubted my parents love for me, even when my dad would come home and say, “We’re moving,” and I would have to say goodbye to my friends that I had only begun to know. I never doubted their love – and I never doubted God’s love. It’s strange…well, maybe not strange, since the Bible clearly tells us it’s true…how naturally God can be a part of everyday life. Everything: from tasting cheese inParisto covering my eyes inAmsterdam’s red light district. My parents had known the secret to making God – more specifically, God’s love through Jesus Christ – the focal point of everything I experienced. I look back and I can’t see a place where God was not the focus. We talked openly and regularly about sin and God’s desire to save us – as we stood in the attic that hid Jewish families from Nazi’s, they explained sin and man’s depravity. As we stood in the dust of concentration camps, they explained how sometimes God lets bad things happen – and Jesus came to save us from them. We prayed together – not only at breakfast each morning, but also in the times we got lost in a foreign country. We read the Bible together – not just at the church we were faithfully involved in (no matter where we moved) but also as we quoted it as we walked through ancient buildings. We worshiped together – not just the hymns and praise songs they knew and loved, but the children’s songs we listened to in the car. My mom and dad still know all of the words to every Kid’s Praise tape we listened to. And more to their credit – they have continued that tradition on down to my children, their grandkids.

Am I saying that my parents are perfect? No. Am I saying that they are the best parents in the world? Yes. Because they modeled Deuteronomy 6 to me, whether they knew they were doing so or not.

 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

 20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’

21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.

22 And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes.

23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers.

(Deuteronomy 6:6-9, 20-23)

 

I have come to discover that raising children in the Lord (though it is understood that it is important) does not have to be as difficult as we make it. We stress out about ‘making sure their in church’ and making sure that they are always making great choices, which are both good things. But I am seeing how it can be more fluid – a natural outgrowth of your family’s rhythms and life. There are obviously certain things that you have to build into every life, but not every family is the same. Your family has a natural way of things that suites YOUR FAMILY – find your family’s rhythm. Talk about the Lord as you walk or run or drive. Allow God to be the main focus in every situation. Write it on your houses. Let it be like a sign: as for me and my house we will serve the Lord…

And then, when your kids look at your family’s rhythm and how God is a part of it, they’ll ask why.

 Why do you have so much faith that God is going to provide?

Why do you say that God is in control?

Why do we pray together as a family?

Why are you so excited to talk about what you read in your Bible?

Why are you overjoyed in this situation or that?

How do you know it’s going to be okay?

 And you will look at them, with sincere certainty and say, “Because God has shown me before that he will provide. Because looking back, I can see how God has worked those horrible things together for good. Because God has proven himself faithful, time after time. Because God is amazing and he loves us. Because God is doing an amazing work in me.

And it will be more than just words. It will be more than just stories in a book. It will be a true, definable relationship that they will desire: imperfect sinners in a relationship with a Holy God who loves them no matter what.

And when your relationship with your children becomes an outgrowth of your relationship with God – when it’s real and genuine – then your relationship with you children becomes more than merely surviving.

It becomes a joy.

More than Merely Surviving, part two

4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)

Years ago I had a student in my youth group who had a horrible home life. She came to church with her friend who was a member, and I never met her parents. She lived with her dad who had remarried, and her sister. She hated going home. And we hated taking her home. She would tell us that the only reason she went home was to take care of her younger sister. She was not abused. She was neglected.

I remember being so furious with her parents. Their neglect was like a strong wind that blew her into the arms of any middle or high school boy that offered to ‘love’ her. She made poor choices based on that ‘love’ and they encouraged her in them because when she didn’t come home at night, they didn’t have to feed her. She even ran away for a while.

How do we teach this beautiful daughter of Zion that she is a princess? How do we display the truth of loving the Lord with your heart, soul and might?

A sad truth is, we had girls come through our youth group who made the same poor decisions, but came from loving, both parents still in the picture, go to church each week homes. I would stand on the sidelines, begging for a chance to be put in the game…but instead would have to watch families fall apart. I was angry and resentful.

Now, my daughter is growing up and making choices for herself…nowhere near the choices that these teenage girls had before them…but choices none the less. And I wonder how do I teach my own daughter that she is holy and special to God? It’s easy to point at other parents and pick out the things they have done wrong and blame them for the choices their kids have made…but when it is turned around on us?

Deuteronomy says to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and might; and for that truth to be upon your heart. So, questions:
– What does it mean to love the Lord with all of your heart? Soul? Might?
– How does that apply to parenting?
– What is the significance of having that truth be upon our hearts?

When my heart is focused on deceitful things, all that will flow out of it is deceit. If my own selfish desires are written upon my heart, then I have no room to love the Lord…much less my children.
Perhaps my parenting should not revolve around the choices of my children or the rules and ways I try to coach good performances from them. Maybe, instead, Godly parenting comes from the overflow of what God is doing in me…

To be continued…